CENTRAL COAST MEAT MARKET is gone. Noticed on one of my drive-by’s and shocked not one of my eyes & ears out there mentioned it. That leaves 2–that’s TWO, folks–TWO briskets in the county: Jefferey’s and G Bros. Three if you count the abysmal Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ. I had heard the new RIBLINE inside Mongo’s in Grover City had brisket, but cruised in the other day to check and nope: just another tri-tip spot. So if you want real BBQ, you gotta go to Paso or SLO. Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ is going to be kinda a pulled-pork version, heavily seasoned with lots of fatty and in smaller chunks. G Brothers Smokehouse thankfully has the classic slabs of smoke-ringed meat with beans and slaw and potato salad and sauce and thick white bread. Big Bubba’s is inedible: dry, over-done shoe-leather absolutely NO amount of sauce can fix.
While in Pismo: have you been to KULTURHAUS BREWING in the old Chop spot? Brew-pub food will always have a certain German hint to it with all the hot dogs and pretzels etc but Kulturhaus seems to be taking the theme a few steps further and actually headed firmly into German restaurant territory. Also a couple of extremely British pub-staples. Their bierocks are the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth in Pismo Beach. Period. Again: apologies to all the fabulous men & women who have cooked for me over the years in Pismo Beach but I’m sorry: these things are just absolute heaven. It’s kind of like a turkey pot pie, kind of like a pierogi, it says sausage on the menu and looks like turkey or chicken with cabbage and whole coriander seeds in it–all in a beautiful flaky bun. They are on the *specials* menu currently, but now that I wrote this, they are going to have to keep them forever!
Wine Festival season is warming up: WOPN came and went… Women’s Winemaker Festival came and went… now SLO COAST WINE CLASSIC is back in a new venue and fairly well re-imagined from last year at Dinosaur Caves. There’s 3 events, starting with a winemaker dinner at LIDO Friday, March 24th, with all white wines then a 5-course dinner featuring 5 SLO Coast winemakers and menu by chef Chris Shackleford. Saturday a couple of seminars on the region’s wines on the Starlight Lawn at Vespera led by Adam Montiel of The Cork Dorks and a 3-course lunch by Pequin Coastal Cocina followed by a typical wine-tasting with 20 SLO Coast wineries representing. Sunday, a sparkling-only tasting on the Oceanfront Terrace at SeaCrest. SPECIFICS & TICKETS HERE
While we’re talking food & beverage: the ROD & HAMMER WHISKEY LOUNGE at The Carrisa has re-opened out of the smashing success that was Christmas at the Carrisa. Small bites and a full bar with live jazz Friday and Saturday nights 6-10. Music’s good, vibe’s good, drink’s good–all in a cozy atmosphere in the front half of the space. It’s really THE new downtown drinking destination for grown-ups. Went last night, there was a line already formed at opening, inside was comfortably full all night with a GOOD-LOOKIN crowd. Have you heard about this new trend in larger cities toward “25-and-over” bars? We don’t have any of that here yet, but man, what a great idea.
Finally got back into CAFE DELLA VIA after about a 3-year absence and worked through the whole menu. We have a lot of high-end Italian here, but unlike other places I’ve lived doesn’t seem to be a lot of really safe down home comfort Italian. My old go-to was Del’s in Shell Beach but pretty sure Della Via is my new spot because I just can’t do the one in Los Osos and Distasio’s is depressing. The additional star of the show is the BARELY MARKED UP winelist. There’s literally only 2 restaurants in Cayucos now: Lunada and Cafe dela Via and both are solid.
Thinking I might do a wrap-up of all the Italian resties around here. Wouldn’t THAT be fun? Anything to get the Rosa’s people screaming at the Giuseppe’s people and the Buona Tavola folks slighting the Il Cortile fanatics while Nate’s and La Locanda and Cafe Roma fight for scraps.
Speaking of Italian, I hadn’t been to HARMONY CAFE at the Pewter Plough for several years and a little bit of a surprise on revisiting: the menu has gone completely Italian (except for croque madame) it even says ‘Cucina Italiano’ on the menu. I’m not angry about this at all! Unbelievably well done and a proud entry in the local high-end Italian sweepstakes. If one is to judge by the comments from the Karenosphere, apparently Chef Giovanni has little-to-no respect for picky eaters, hi-maintenance diners and fake food allergies. Basically my new favorite hero. All the best restaurants in the county are in Cambria–I mean it’s just a fact.
FEDERICO’S FRESH MEX is apparently open in Morro Bay. Not in a rush to get out there. Ate at the former SLO location once. ONCE. Hey: I went to ROCK TACOS though! That was a mixed experience: one layered with authenticity on one hand and tourist-appeal on the other. I suppose a balance of some sort HAS to be made in order to be successful. Let’s use a couple nearby examples: Taco Temple is the worst, most in-authentic, fake, overloaded, bullshit Mexican eatery on the planet and of course, there’s a line out the door. Luna Llena across town is THE most unique Latin experience you will find north of Oceano making literally orgasmic food with ZERO tourist appeal. Eating at that window and watching the Trevors and Kimberlys pause, read the menu and move on is truly a depressing experience. You want to go out and shake them all. So back to Rock Taco: Curious mix of food on the menu, plenty of ESL interactions, curious standouts and comfortable standbys, food generally very high quality and thoughtfully made, though any place with quesadillas is gonna get an asterisk and the tacos RIDICULOUSLY over-stuffed in typical corn-fed umerican fashion. Best views on the bay though, and once they get their liquor license, I hope it turns into the hot-spot it deserves. Get the ceviche! Bring your own Saladitas though.
One more Morro Bay Mexican note: the old Adelina’s downtown closed for remodeling and re-opened as FOOD MIX. Perhaps a little Spanglish going on there with the branding, but they never have beat to the gringo drum. Hamburgers and fries are at the top of the menu now, with their wonderful tacos on home-made tortillas a little lower on the page. Read the first part of this paragraph again if things are unclear, Barbara. The little-known Mexican market is still next door, though, with all your standard food-stuff’s for cooking that sort of food. I mean… it’s not Vallarta’s, but it will get you by.
A few rumors to lay out while we’re cruising around the bay: The Range people going into BLUE HERON spot??? Still no movement on the DORNS’ interaction with the old Kitty’s spot on Main St. Also–as mentioned before–Savannah’s is NOT happening. Speaking of Los Osos: you KNOW NAUTICAL BEAN went into that little boomer-breakfast place at the edge of the mud, right? That makes 3 or 4 of them now. Always been aware of Nautical Bean as they’ve morphed around the county, but pretty much considered it a coffee spot with maybe muffins and scones but noticed recently for the first time it said “Nautical Bean Coffee & Bistro” and wandered in to see what the *bistro* portion entailed. I had no idea they serve so much food there. Picked up a BLTA untoasted that had literally a pound of bacon in it, spring greens, avocado, and really nice tangy sourdough bread. I’m going to go with this easily being in the top two or three BLTs I’ve had in the area.
My first poutine in my entire life and I gotta say I actually hated it a lot less than I expected. Still it’s just not a dish for me, but honestly gravy is not all that horrible on fries. The cheese curds add a nice piquant punch to it and the fries that they’re on are just absolutely perfect shoe strings and that is what makes me the most disappointed that I have gravy on them: because these fries are absolutely perfect fries to have by themselves. Oh well now I can say I’ve had poutine… FRENCH FRIES USA in Arroyo Grande just opened and serves 10 different cuts of french fries on any item and also features a build-it-yourself burger menu. Rather solid burger, but I built it myself so…
I will be updating my recent CHOWDER LIST, making it a perpetual listing as I visit more versions around here. Had both PIER 46 SEAFOOD and FIN’S BAR & GRILL applications lately and will plug them in appropriately. Thinking right now the former will go to #6 and the latter to #2 or 3. Fin’s is really good.
While I was in Pismo, walked into the former Somerset Grill–now PEQUIN COASTAL COCINA–for lunch and encountered a troubling new trend I first experienced back when when Piadina opened. An incredibly nauseous smell being pumped through the lobby and resty which would make dining or wine-drinking nearly impossible. I don’t get it. Stop doing this. Maybe no one notices? It’s terrible: kind of a weird flatulent cleaning solution/wilted floral which literally makes you gag. Couldn’t do it and walked out.
Up in SLO, was blown away by THE BRIDGE CAFE in that little alley next to the Fremont in the bowels of the city admin building. It’s been 15 different things since that building was completed and in between some of those, closed for long periods. And apparently, its MO is to provide transitionary jobs for recently incarcerated individuals. I think I have that right, and if you think about it: I mean, can you even cook in a restaurant if you haven’t been to prison??? That’s a joke, Karen. Try to keep up. Their burger is on brioche, has a wonderful tangy sauce, a single leaf of butter lettuce, nicely ripened tomato for February and a patty clearly showing all the markings of hand-formed. It is one of the juiciest, most delicious hamburgers I’ve had in recent memory, and the fries that come with it are not steak fries but fat, barely golden fried soft juicy morsels dusted with herbs. And the true culinary geeks who peer into the kitchen will notice instantly: they cook on a target-top. Name another restaurant in town with that… I’ll wait. Bell’s is the only other one I’ve seen.
Also in SLO: some chocolatier closed after 400 years; The distillery is open in SLO Public Market; Taco Roco became CHICHO’S out at Laguna; The original CC Brewing location closed up in NoMo, and while you’re in Nomo: FIELD DAY is making the best coffee in town. They also are opening a wine-shop next door but already have a BUNCH of bottles for sale in the coffee area.
And… I broke down and went to *hot chicken* finally. We have what, 7? here now in San Luis Obispo alone? It’s pretty much insane how this trend of horribleness has taken over. I picked DAVE’S HOT CHICKEN and ordered the lowest heat setting “lite mild” and the soylent sandy crust of weird coloration is nothing you’ve ever seen on chicken in your life, The fries are thick crinkle cuts with Lowry’s and basically inedible, Two pieces of plain Wonder bread are puzzling as well unless this is some carryover from Southern BBQ. The pickles are nothing special. And there is a yellow sauce served with everything which is equally puzzling, it kind of comes off like Thousand Island but almost like they’re trying to do a Chipotle or aioli sort of thing with it. Ruined everything dipped into it. And the meat itself. The menu says chicken “tenders” which we’ve all read a million times and typically means formed chicken nugget by-products for the quesadilla crowd. But the shape and texture clearly shows they are indeed chicken tenderloins. Refreshing, as it’s an amazing cut of meat I have plugged for years. Not super popular, often very hard to find at a butcher separated from the breast but a ridiculously versatile piece of meat–maybe my favorite part of the chicken. Glad someone’s using them, but means a lot fewer chicken tenderloins out there for us! Anyway… this is not horrible chicken. I planned on hating it but ate every single last bite. Once you get past the coating, it is moist and delicious and wonderful. Nothing else on the plate was consumed.
Brand new restaurant in Arroyo Grande and was fairly shocked to find it packed for lunch but they have these great window front bar seating giving some of the best traffic-watching in town. BLUE SEAFOOD & GRILL. Lots of interesting seafood on the menu, including a focus (stop me if you’ve heard this before *cough* Kickers *cough*) on oysters: shooters and otherwise. The meat on the ahi tostada was vaguely seasoned, and between the smooth, rather salty guacamole and the squeeze bottle application the whole thing just kind of came off as salty and not terribly poke-ish, though they were definite poke nuances in the seasoning. It should be noted the menu did NOT say “poke” but you can see that’s where they’re headed with it. Microgreens are a nice touch over seaweed salad as it’s bright and crunchy Like the bread in bahn-mi and Cubano, my first judgement on tostada is going to be the shell. These were decent; dry and brittle although impossible to tell WHEN they were fried or by WHO. Only been open a couple weeks and had your typical overattentive staff and no alcohol yet. The fish and chips look great, the crab sandwich very tempting. I think this is a decent fit for Grand Avenue. I mean it’s a million times better than Quarterdeck and where else are you going to go? Sea Venture?
When I try a new dish, get curious, and head down a rabbit-hole all over inspecting other versions–educating myself–more often than not will return to the original for re-judgement. In keeping with this pattern, I visited the FIRST smashburger I actually enjoyed: MUTINY BURGER. They ONLY make smashburgers, and the chef’s fascination with the unique development of flavor over that of a normal cheeseburger is obvious. Each of the standard twin-patties are literally lace doilies of crunchy brown goodness. Grilled onions are extra–which is a little odd–but it is a beautiful thing and one of 1 or 2 benchmarks in the area: THE OLD ALEHOUSE the other. A CLEAR recipe has emerged–some of it trivial, some of it de rigueur–and some of you out there are LITERALLY making nothing more than a cheeseburgers.
One more thing: Have you been to BRAMBLE PIE COMPANY???? Seriously: her pot pies obliterate literally everything else in the area. Get one–get there early–they sell out. In old-town Atascadero and worth the trip.
OK so… you’ve got your list: Mutiny Burger. Luna Llena. Harmony. Kulturhaus. Bramble. Di Raimondos. Got it?